Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Devil's Backbone

Year: 2001
Running time: 106 minutes
Certificate: 15
Language: Spanish
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, Antonio Trashorras, David Muñoz
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Fernando Tielve, Marisa Paredes, Federico Luppi, Eduardo Noriega, Irene Visedo, Íñigo Garcés, Junio Valverde

The orphanage's unexploded bomb, dominating the landscape.
Guillermo del Toro has said that The Devil’s Backbone is a companion piece to Pan's Labyrinth. Both films are set around the same time in history (the Spanish civil war) and set supernatural events alongside some of the ugliest reality human history has to offer. There are a number of thematic similarities, but the most marked difference is where Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale, The Devil’s Backbone is a ghost story.

During the closing stages of the Spanish civil war, a young boy named Carlos (Fernando Tielve) arrives at an orphanage seemingly in the middle of nowhere, run by two supporters of the left-wing Republicans Dr. Casares (Frederico Luppi) and Carmen (Marisa Paredes). They are assisted by a young teacher Conchita (Irene Visedo) and groundskeeper Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega). In the middle of the grounds sits the striking image of the mother of all Chekhov's Guns (albeit one that never actually goes off), an unexploded bomb, which fell to earth on the night one of the young boys, Santi (Junio Valverde) died.
Santi's ghost tries to communicate with  Carlos.

Whispered talk about the ghost of Santi haunting the orphanage spreads among the kids, and before long Carlos suffers through some terrifying encounters. In spite of his fear, Carlos works to uncover the mystery around Santi's death and the realisation that we have a lot more to fear from the living than we do the dead is powerfully brought home thanks to del Toro's skillful direction.

The juxtaposition of the ghostly terror and the real life danger is very effectively handled, giving us a tense supernatural thriller, that hides a core of melancholy, showing the characters doomed to repeat their actions without end, as much ghosts themselves as Santi, defined at the beginning and end of the film as "a tragedy doomed to repeat itself time and time again". Considering what must have been a modest budget, the ghost effects are very nicely handled, and del Toro's command of his colour palette, showing the days as sun-baked yellow and brown give way to otherworldly green and gold at night is absolutely masterful.

Well worth a look.

Score: 8/10

The Devil's Backbone is widely considered among del Toro's best films, as shown in these reviews by Dorothy and Orrin.